Thursday, June 29, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Blood of Youth

Su-ang is living proof of the brutality of China’s orphanages, but not for long. He is slowly dying from the brain injuries he sustained while living in a provincial facility as a teen. However, he plans to go out with a vengeful bang in Yang Shu-peng’s Blood of Youth (trailer here), which screens during this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

You could also say Su-ang knows where the bodies are buried, because he just tipped off the cops to the location of a corpse buried in the woods over a decade ago. He also dropped a dime on a bank heist planned by Shen’s gang, then rather perversely warned Shen the cops had the drop on him. He is definitely playing a dangerous game, but he has an accomplice: Lin Qiao. He and Lin were orphans together and now she is cellist the orchestra conducted by Li Zhimin, who happens to be married to Su-ang’s doctor, Han Yu.

Of course, there are no coincidences in Blood. However, Su-ang, Yang, and his co-screenwriter Li Chenxi closely guard their secrets until well into the third act. It is a dark and twisted tale copper Zhang Jianyu will have to unravel the hard way. At least he will have a bit of (possibly unethical) help from Dr. Han Yu.

Wow, Chinese language cinema hates classical musicians. While not as spectacularly odious as Michael Wang’s hammy opera singer in Nightfall, Guo Xiaodong is still all kinds of sinister as the baton-wielding, sexually harassing Li. You can cut the tension and resentment brewing between him and Yu Nan’s Han Yu with a blunt butter knife. On the other hand, she develops weirdly ambiguous but compelling chemistry with both Zhang Yi and Oho Ou, as Zhang and Su-ang, respectively.

Frankly, it is not clear the big kahuna revelation really can be made to retrofit with everything that went before it, but at least Yang is swinging for the dramatic fences. In terms of category, Blood is a psychological thriller, but it has the tragic sweep of opera. It is a bold work, especially given its hints of social conscience. Highly recommended, Blood of Youth screens this Sunday (7/2), at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2017 NYAFF.